By Kim Constantinesco
Denver City Councilman Albus Brooks, 37, only knows one speed: A mile a minute.
While the former University of Colorado safety and linebacker was working on developing a $150 million affordable housing funding proposal, raising three young children, and attending the Daniels School of Business at the University of Denver to get his Executive MBA, he was thrown for a loop in June when he was diagnosed with Chondrosarcoma — a subtype of sarcoma, which is a rare cancer of bone and soft tissue.
In between the two surgeries to remove a 15-pound, 16-centimeter tumor, he also unexpectedly lost his 71-year-old father.
“I tell people a lot that cancer actually saved me because it gave me a much richer perspective on life,” Brooks said.
While medicine is powerful, the mind has its own tricks up its sleeves, and Brooks can fully attest to that.
The Hits Keep Coming
Brooks had been healthy for his entire life, with “nothing more than a cold.”
The former division one football player maintained his good health by regularly going to the gym and hitting the city’s streets to run miles either for fun or in preparation for a race.
He started struggling with “weird” pain in his psoas — the major muscle in the pelvic region that connects the lower back to the upper thigh. Sitting too long made it ache, so a yoga instructor told him to stretch more. That wasn’t doing the trick. Still, he signed up to run the Bolder Boulder, the country’s largest 10K. That’s where he really started to get concerned and wonder if it was more than his psoas.
“My buddy looked at me while we were running and said, ‘You look horrible,'” Brooks said. “I went to the chiropractor after the race, who immediately told me to go to the doctor right away. I went to my primary care physician, and he kind of teared up and said, ‘I’m sorry, Albus. I think this is a tumor.’
A biopsy confirmed that it was indeed cancer.
Researchers are coming to find that the best cure for this type of cancer is surgery, as chemotherapy and radiation don’t yield great results.
Doctors made a 12-inch incision in Brooks’ stomach to remove the massive tumor. Things seemingly went well with Brooks even being discharged five days early. However, doctors weren’t able to get clean margins, so they had to schedule more time in the operating room two weeks later, and make another incision in his back to remove his L-3 vertebrae.
That wasn’t the worst of it. The night before the second surgery, Brooks’ father passed away suddenly from heart complications.
“It was an emotional time for me. I was medicated and not able to process it all,” Brooks said of having to go through another surgery and cope with his father’s death at the same time. ”When someone dies, you realize how important they were. You realize how close you were. Me and my dad shared a ton together — my successes and my failures. I’m glad I got 37 years with him.”
Taking Stock of What’s Important
There’s no “right time” to fight cancer, especially for a councilman on his sixth year on the job who was just elected council president, but Brooks considers the timing of his illness to be a great gift.
During his downtime between surgeries, he and his father spent hours together that they never would have.
“Before he died, he comes over and he goes, ‘I’m so excited because we’re just going to watch movies this afternoon, because you can’t do anything,” Brooks said. “We watched the greatest ‘man movie’ ever — The Revenant… A lot of people bury their parents and they’re not able to think about fond memories. I was able to bury him and say thank you. Thanks for the life you lived, and thanks for the memories you gave me.”
That made him consider is own role as a father and husband, too.
“There are a lot of things in life that motivate you,” Brooks said. “My wife and my kids, and how important those relationships are. I’m a crazy workaholic. I’m just learning some balance in life. I’m learning to give more time to my kids and my wife, give more time to me to develop some hobbies and take better care of myself. I’m lucky that I get more time to try and live out my dad’s legacy.”
While Brooks was busy learning that life lesson in the five weeks he had to take off from work, things at the office panned out well. The “sustainable” affordable housing bill passed committee in late August, unanimously.
“We live in a city that I love, but I will say, if it’s not inclusive for all people, it’s not for me,” he said. “I want to create a city where businesses are coming in, developers feel like its business friendly, where people can come and get jobs with livable wages, and people can come and live and not pay more than a third of their wage for their housing needs.”
Now back at work, Brooks is cancer free, gaining weight, and feeling stronger by the day. Noting that a cancer diagnosis isn’t a death sentence, he says that keeping hope and positivity is key.
“Be determined not to go to that place of despair,” Brooks said.
As for his future, it’s brighter and more balanced than ever. Sure, he’s looking forward to snowboarding again next spring, but with a burning passion for leading the charge for change, Brooks has put another item on his agenda — finding a cure for sarcoma.
That’s why he embraced a new role as the Chairman for the Race to Cure Sarcoma Denver, 5K walk/run event on September 17 put on by the Sarcoma Foundation of America.
“I want to devote time to help put an end to this horrible disease,” he said.
Who can argue with an agenda like that?